Hillary Hankey: Progressive Bird Training

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Episode - 14 ​March 2020

Host: Barbara Heidenreich

Guest: ​Hillary Hankey

​​My favorite kind of animal trainers are those who break the rules!! What I mean by that is that they are the ones who question everything in the name of doing it better. That is why this episode is entitled “Progressive Bird Training.” My special guest Hillary Hankey is one of those trainers who spends every day analyzing, studying and practicing the art and science of animal training with a diverse collection of birds in Southern California. And her results have demonstrated that indeed we can always improve. She describes the spectacular immersive free flight experience guests, students, clients and interns can have when they visit her facility. We discuss practices that can improve the welfare of birds trained for educational presentations, as well as enhance the guest experience. This means diving into how we create motivation, collection planning, the types of behaviors we train and altering guest’s expectations. We also discuss the current trend of free flying companion parrots and some of the things pet owners need to take into consideration. Visit the episode webpage to see video clips and learn more about her online education program the Avian Behavior Lab and future on site workshops.

​Videos ​of Training in Action at Avian Behavior International:

​Links to Hillary's Resources Mentioned in the Podcast:

​So You Want to Train to Train your Pet Parrot for Free Flight

Part II: Ruminations on Free Flying Parrots and Thoughts for Long Lasting Success

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Guest Bio:

​Hillary Hankey is a falconer, professional animal trainer, and behavior consultant. She has been living, breathing, sleeping, and dreaming of flying birds free for decades. Though she grew up with a childhood bedroom filled with parrots – much to her older sister’s chagrin – it wasn’t until she met a good friend in college that she received formal education in training. She began free flying her parrots outdoors under her friend’s mentorship and continued for many years flying and training birds. In 2008, when Hillary moved to San Diego, California filled with hopes and dreams and worked for the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and the San Diego Zoo, training in free flying bird programs. In her spare time, she volunteered consulting at exotic animal education and bird breeding facilities to broaden her understanding of animals. Along the way, she met her match in Andre Mondin, an animal lover that can keep up with the unique lifestyle of living on a farm stride for stride. Because Hillary got her start flying birds in a much more informal way, connecting birds and people in the prairies and hills at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, her desire was to return to her roots, allow birds to fly in more natural way and for people to experience firsthand what birds are truly capable in the skies.

In 2013, she set out to find the perfect property in rural, agrarian San Diego county. Through setbacks and triumph, she founded the ABI ranch, twenty acres with ocean views and glowing sunsets, and set out to realize her dream of creating a space to build an organization based around progressive training techniques, a place safe for ideas to incubate and grow as trainers explore the importance of ethical training methods, and oasis for visitors to enjoy the company of birds that are as excited to see them as the visitors are to have an interactive bird adventure.  Similarly, Hillary knew she also wanted to teach other zoo trainers around the world these concepts and ideas to open the doors of the human-animal connection.

Avian Behavior International was a vision of Hillary’s for a very long time, but jumping off can be scary. Entrepreneurship is a challenging life choice in general; basing a business model on a “service” that can fly anywhere and everywhere is darn near foolhardy. Undeterred, Hillary and Andre have enjoyed sharing their love of animals with everyone they meet. It is with hope, enthusiasm, and a sense of reverence that they carefully, transform the property step-by-step they purchased into their vision, a place for discovery, of excitement, and farm that fondly recalls the idyllic childhood Hillary’s father had in these citrus cloaked valleys of San Diego County.

​Links to Barbara's Webinar Recordings Mentioned in Podcast:

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